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How to Stand Out as a Small Business in a College Town

Trey Newcomb, Account Associate

College towns, such as State College, are filled with small businesses catered to niche markets made up of students, alumni, and sports fans. Tons of locally owned clothing shops, restaurants, and gift shops all compete for business; so, what makes some stand out while others flop? After four years at Penn State, it seems as though the most successful small businesses in the area all follow a similar recipe with four common factors. 

  1. Location 

Location is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to success in a college town. While it is not necessarily easy to find a perfect location, small businesses should aim to be located within walking distance of most student housing. Whether it be on campus or off campus, students will often opt for the most conveniently located stores.  Think about McLanahan’s at Penn State. The original location is centrally located between campus and the beginning of off-campus housing. It is easily accessible by foot, car, or CATA bus. 

  1. Reasonable Prices 

It is essential to remember that college towns cater to college students. This means that you’ll be dealing with college budgets. If the cost of running your business is extremely expensive, a college town might not be ideal for you. However, there are ways to profit while selling a relatively low-priced product. Utilize rewards programs, daily/weekly deals, and frequent sales.

  1. Quality Product

Most college students understand that expecting low-priced products will often result in lower quality. Pleasantly surprise them by blowing away their expectations. Whether you’re selling pizza, groceries, or clothes, give students the most bang for their buck. 

  1. Brand Loyalty 

Loyalty is essential for any company. Keep the customers coming back! Get involved on campus as much as possible – hire student-ambassadors and use social media to connect with as many students as possible. Come up with a catchy name for your business and stick out from the rest of the local businesses. Be active in going to the students, rather than letting them try and find you.

  1. Longevity 

The final and most important factor in the long-term success of your local business is longevity. The only way to check the 5th box on this list is by successfully incorporating all of the first four factors. It is what will make your business a staple in any college town. Penn State alumni can hardly pass up a chance to hit The Waffle Shop, Champs, or the Corner Room when they visit. All of these small-businesses have successfully secured their spot in Penn State culture.

By following this recipe for success and with a little luck, you can be well on your way to growing a successful small business in a college town. 

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